Slowly but surely, data storage is starting to become unified. Instead of having dedicated storage arrays for each device, we’re starting to see a world where data is truly shared via storage devices. That means rather than locking data up as a subset of a shared storage resource for use with only one application, the data is made available to multiple applications that rely on a storage operating system to keep track of which data is being shared by which applications.
On the face of it, this is a common-sense approach to storage. But the history of storage has been defined by performance considerations that required storage arrays to be tightly linked to specific applications. In today’s world, there is starting to be enough storage bandwidth to effectively share and manage data across multiple applications. One of the first examples of these storage operating systems is the Data OnTap file system from NetApp, which drives the company’s V-Series storage systems. The basic idea there is that the same software can manage both NetApp NAS appliances and storage area networks from Hitachi, EMC, IBM Fujitsu or Hewlett-Packard.
NetApp is hardly the only vendor pushing for storage unification. A number of storage vendors have similar ideas and concepts, all of which will be gaining momentum with the advent of 40 Gbps host bus adapters on the way from companies such as Mellanox Technologies. According to Sujal Das, senior director of product management for Mellanox, this latest generation of HBAs also comes with the concept of virtual HBAs that allows makes of storage arrays to dynamically allocate I/O resources to various applications on demand.
This is becoming a critical requirement because as the number of virtual machines continues to expand, so too do the number of applications demanding I/O access. Virtual HBAs create a way to manage that demand.
This is also why we see IT services companies such as World Wide Technology talk more about the concept of storage unification. Naturally, there will be many ways to get there, but the one thing that is for certain is that allocation of storage resources is about to get a whole lot more dynamic, which unless properly managed, could also lead to a lot more complicated overhead that in the end slows down, rather than speeds up, applications trying to share the same virtual infrastructure.